If We Ran An Airline, All Our Agents Would Be On The Same Page

(Other takeaways: What happens when you forget your ID for a flight and what you should do)

American Airlines JFK Terianl 8, Gate 44.

If we ran an airline, we’d make sure all of our agents knew fully well what their capabilities were to resolve customer issues. Or, taken to a bigger scale, institute a mentality of at least trying to do all that can be done for the customer.

Let me explain why: Today was almost a very bad day for us in the unnecessarily complicated world of airline travel. Everything was going smoothly – we got up on time, got to the airport on time, and checked our bag in on time. But then in the TSA Precheck line, my wife realized she forgot her ID.

No worries, we’ve been here before. About ten years ago, my wife forgot her ID and they just asked a bunch of questions and we were on our way. It slowed us down, but we luckily were there early enough to still make the flight.

Unfortunately, today didn’t quite go that way. For starters, we had to go to the regular TSA line and stand through that to get to that agent. That agent had to call the supervisor, who then took a long time to get to us.

Here are the things we learned at this stage about forgetting your ID for air travel: 1) Scanned IDs (license, passports, etc) don’t mean anything. We already kind of knew that. But with our TSA Precheck status, we were hoping for something different. And 2) Anything with our address would have sufficed. So even if you forget an ID, a letter or two could do.

Bills with your name on it will suffice

Sadly, my wife did have a bunch of letters with her name and address on them at the airport, but they were in the suitcase we had already checked in. A bad coincidence which only occurred because my wife had to run to the rest room and I handled the check in solo. Normally, when doing the check-in, I always show everyone’s boarding pass and IDs.

So far, this forgotten ID process already contrasted greatly with our last time going through this. When this happened back in Miami 10 years ago, we were immediately directed to a cube where the questions process got kicked off right away.

Here, once the TSA supervisor finally arrived, she told us the questioning process would take 30 minutes. This was another surprising thing since in our last incident, everything was resolved pretty quick. The 30 minute questioning process would be tough with our 45ish minutes until take-off. So the supervisor recommended we talk to the airline to get on a later flight.

So we went back to the American Airlines desk to explain the predicament. That agent told us that our only option was to try to fly standby for the evening flight, which was full. If that didn’t work, we would then have the option to try for the morning flight, on which we had a pretty solid shot. We asked if we could just lock in flying tomorrow but they said on our ticket that wasn’t allowed (at least within reasonable cost). When we asked if we could take a flight from a different airport, we were told we couldn’t based on the type of ticket we had. 

Now we were really in trouble because the flight was taking off in 30 minutes. We quickly went through our options and, as is the case whenever something goes wrong with air travel, we even debated on just giving up on the plane ticket and going home. (Times like this you really appreciate Southwest which has their policy of if you miss your flight, you can use the money you spent on the ticket for a future flight.)

We then made a reach decision which incredibly worked out in our favor. We decided to still go through with the TSA questions, even though the time we had left was now definitely within 30 minutes. We were banking on the plane maybe being late or something working out. And if it didn’t, we’d let the gate agent there handle our next move.

TSA Agent's shoulder

So we went through the line again, got to the TSA agent again, and had her reach out to the TSA supervisor again. This time the supervisor really pushed back against doing the questioning since the time window was smaller. But we pushed, as you often have to with the various players you encounter whenever you need anything done if you’re trying to do air travel.

The TSA kicked off the questioning process and, as we should have expected, the questioning was wrapped up in 10 minutes. Lesson learned – push back on the TSA if they give resistance to doing the questioning.

To the TSA’s credit, once the questioning wrapped up, they helped us out moving us to the top of the line and having dedicated people get us through everything quickly. We then got to gate, and the door had closed about 13 minutes earlier. Meaning, we totally could have made it had we not left the TSA the first time.

default boarding pass picture

But, just as a bunch of bad coincidences got us here, a bunch of good coincidences started working out for us. For starters, this gate agent would end up saving the day for us. Initially he did tell us what the other desk agent told us that we could only fly standby at this point for the evening flight and not be confirmed for tomorrow morning’s flight until we completed an attempt on the evening flight (Author’s note: make an “If we Ran” post about this awful policy). But, unlike the desk agent, he told us we could fly out of a different airport. Did he have more capabilities than the desk agent we spoke with 30 minutes ago? Or did he care more? He then found us a different flight which had seats and, even better, was able to confirm us on that.

So after that, we left BWI airport, went to DCA National airport, and boarded our new flight without issues. A happy ending.

I know the whole story probably isn’t needed for the this article’s main point of agents not being on the same page. But, I felt the non-relevant parts of the story also pointed out other opportunities for improvement in this system, mainly with the TSA and ID process in general. Also, to reinforce the other main takeaway I want you to have after reading this which is to push back when necessary.

If We Ran a Business, We’d Attempt To Withdraw Only Once

One of the nice things about Fedloan is that they give you a .25% discount off the interest if you setup direct deposit. And one of the bad things about Fedloan is that if you accidentally don’t leave enough cash in your account to cover your withdrawal (like I did today), then they’ll attempt to withdraw three times, and your bank will charge you NSF fees 3 times.

I have no idea why they would try three times. If I was running a business, I’d try once and if there was a problem, I’d reach out to the customer. I’m so curious to know what results are of the three attempts. My guess is that most of the time, it’s three overdraft fees in a row before the person realizes what’s happened.

Luckily I logged in to check out what was going on with my payments and saw this madness happening before the 3rd attempt. And also luckily my bank was nice enough to refund the $70 in overdraft fees they had charged so far. And finally, I was also lucky to be working from home and be able to run to the bank during my lunch break to throw some cash in to cover the 3rd attempt which should be happening tomorrow.

Note: This incident should deserve a sister post for “If We Ran a Bank, We Wouldn’t Charge You Multiple NSF Fees for the Same Offense,” but if we ran a bank, we wouldn’t charge NSF fees in the first place. (Plus it would be a redundant blog post.)

We’d also have installed an algorithm in our system that alerted you that you don’t have enough to cover an upcoming withdrawal assuming it’s coming again based on history.

I’ve complained to the CFPB about this practice. I’m not sure if the CFPB has a system of being able to upvote a complaint, but if they do, I’ll add a link to it here.

I also made the CEO of the bank I use aware of this incident. I’m not sure what if anything he will do. Everything that happened is pretty standard bank practice. But, it’s the “Standard bank” practice part of banking I hate that makes me wish for reform so much.

If We Ran Facebook, We’d Make the Following Changes to How We Handle Photos

Today, Facebook randomly decided to give me a survey on how much they mean to me for my photo sharing. They’re actually in luck because Facebook is the website/application I do most of my photo sharing with. I’m not in instagram and rarely use snapchat. Facebook’s always been my main go-to.

Which actually is kind of a problem over all these years in that there’s not much organization to my pictures. A few times I’ve put together albums, most of the time it’s me either uploading pics or being tagged in pics which aren’t organized. That’s what led to my suggestions in the “additional feedback” field at the end:

I’d love for an easy way to fix that with my Facebook pics. My thought would be photo manager application for all of Facebook’s pics. But then the application could go further in my opinion and start being for all your pics. I’ve mainly used Photos (formerly iPhoto) for picture management, but I don’t like it very much anymore.

If Facebook made something better and it became my main go-to photo manager, then they would have the benefit of getting more shares of pics as you discover your older pics. There’s potential here if Facebook wants to explore it.

If we ran a state, we’d also require schools to show projected loan payments (and more)

I was really happy to see this article in today’s WSJ on the states now requiring schools to provide the detailed information on a student’s loan debt and the projected monthly payment:

This is definitely a step in the right direction. I think back to my college days starting in the late 90s for undergrad and mid 2000s for grad, and neither time did I get a full comprehensive picture of what the loans I was taking out would ultimately turn into once everything was done.

While it is easy to dismiss this problem and say it’s not our problem, some sentences in the last few paragraph are eye opening:

“A 2014 Brookings Institution report found about half of all first-year students in the U.S. “seriously underestimate” how much debt they have and less than one-third can estimate their debt loads within a reasonable margin of error.”

“More than one-quarter of students with federal loans reported having no federal debt and 14% said they didn’t have any student debt at all.”

I’d even say let’s take this a step further and show the projected payments alongside what the average person in the field is making and their expenses. This is the type of info a school has the ability to collect from it’s alumni and I would gladly provide it to help future students.

With both these pieces of info, you’ll have a good idea on whether or not you should take this debt or not.

If we ran GroupMe, we’d do the following

GroupMe has been my favorite and most used app since… since.. Well at least two years. I don’t know for sure but luckily one of my suggestions below would help me know this. Two days ago, GroupMe asked us in the App’s “News” section what suggestions we have. I’m glad they asked because I have quite a few:

1) Allow the deleting of posts and pictures. Really delete the pic too, don’t just kill the post with the link that points to it

2) Allow a better way to browse old posts and news announcements other than scrolling down as far as you can go. Often I liked to visit the conversations that occurred in my groups on the day my daughter was born. But every day it gets harder and harder.

It would be nice to browse through the activity that occurred on any old day. Same with news activity.

3) keep pictures private and protected. A pic should only be viewable by members of a group.

4) In my opinion, the three requests above are fairly ordinary requests. This is “my wildest dreams” one:

I run a wordpress-based website called IM Convo of the Day which I like to keep good IM Convos on. But now I mostly talk on GroupMe so whenever something funny happens, it’s a chore to copy paste and then format that convo.

Could there be a way (other than by taking screenshots) to publish a Groupme convo to a website such as my WordPress site?

Extra credit if I can make edits to the version I publish. I usually like to edit for language and readability. If necessary, I sometimes may need to change the username and profile pic.

Twitter sort of has this feature, but not with the ability to edit.

If We Ran WMATA, We’d Turn Special Announcements Into Conversation Hubs

Today, when I jumped on the metro at Judiciary Sq, I should have known something was up when the doors just remained open and we didn’t move. Finally after a few minutes we started moving and the announcement came on which informed us of the situation at Silver Spring which was causing the delays. I wish we had received more info but that was it.

I then visited WMATA’s site from my phone and got some more details:




While it was nice to finally get the reason, a fire, there were still many more unanswered questions. The first one: What kind of delays was I looking at to get there? The train was stopping for a long time at each station so it definitely didn’t seem I would get there anytime soon.

Th second question was what would happen to my bus? The z29 I normally take home to Burtonsville. That was my ultimate destination.

Rather than put the burden on Metro to answer all these questions, it would have been nice if in the actual announcement, a conversation could be had between everyone.

The best piece of advice I had heard was from someone else on the train who said they should jump on the train going the other way back to Gallery Pl/Chinatown and then take the Green Line up to Fort Totten. If I hadn’t heard that, who knows how much longer I would have stayed on the red line.

With today’s abundance of smart-phones and data plans, it would be very easy for us to start talking right away. Especially since most of us Metro-regulars would already have an all capable of this already installed and signed-into on our phones, ready to be used.

Sadly, there is no App from WMATA at all. I’m sure we will see one someday. When we do, this feature would be nice.

If we ran Pizza Hut, we’d adapt to the 21st century better


Well it took 20 years but I finally had a bad experience with Pizza Hut. And it happened when we tried to venture out our usual method for ordering.

Usually we phone in an order but this time we used the web to take advantage of any promotions they may have on the site. The ordering process was initially easy enough. But the first problem came at checkout when I couldn’t use a credit card. I was having my cousin pick up the pizza from the Pizza Hut by his place ( in Laurel on Route 1 by Whiskey Bottom Rd – no Pizza Hut delivers in my parents’ house’s area) and I wanted to be the one who paid. But it said I couldn’t pay online at checkout.

But alright fine… I’ll get him to pay up and I’ll pay him back. Ruins some of the “It’s on me effect,” but again, alright fine. Simple problem.

And the good news is that you can create an account after you finish where you can store your credit card info. From there, going forward, you’re good to pay. Which would be the case… If I could create the account. Unfortunately my house address wasn’t checking out with their address verifier program. And this house has been around for almost 8 years.

So much for creating the account. And then the error page had no back button and the page locked up so I had to close the window. Oh well.

I called up Pizza Hut to see if I could pay for the order I placed over the phone. And I was informed they had no record of that order. So they asked me to re-place it. Annoying. But fine- I placed the order again. Oh, and I still couldn’t pay for the order over the phone.

Then 10 minutes later my cousin calls and says there are two orders under my name and he needed to know which one to pick. That was double annoying because 1) my online order did go through, making my re-placing of the order pointless, and 2) the Pizza Hut people couldn’t identify that the orders were identical. Anyways, they figured it out and that was that.

Alright, so as far as the scope of this post goes, the events I’ve described so far should adequately make the point of why Pizza Hut needs to adopt to the 21st century. So I should just end the post here.

There’s no reason to get into the other events happening that night including Pizza Hut not sending the entire orders (yeah my cousin should have checked, but still). Or that the pizza was cut after we instructed for it not to have been (religious dietary restrictions). Or the initial offer of the manager to only refund the cost of the items they forgot to give us and nothing for the runaround (luckily they ultimately refunded most of the money – which they were also luckily able to do trouble free since the order was paid for via a credit card. God forbid the order be paid for via cash).

Naa.. No need to get into all that.

If we ran E-ZPass Maryland, we wouldn’t fine $25 per violation

If you pay a credit card late, you could be looking at.. what is it $40 fee? I don’t know if the credit card fees are still ridiculous, but even then, at the least, you would just be dealing with a $40-ish fee one at a time.  E-ZPass seems to think that like a credit card company, they should charge a hefty fee too if you make the mistake of not paying a violation within 30 days.

Fine, let’s say that’s moral.  The problem though is that with E-ZPass, you could have quite a few violations at one time if there’s an issue with the transponder or some other error.  That’s what happened to me in December. I had just gotten my new car and traded in my old one.  I called E-ZPass NY to notify them of the new vehicle and they told me that they can’t add on a temporary tag and have to wait until I get a permanent tag.  Well I didn’t get my permanent tag until late January so between late November and late January, on the few instances that the E-ZPass Maryland toll booth didn’t read my transponder, it couldn’t match my license plate to a transponder and sent me a violation.

All in all, there were 5 violations in question.  And when I didn’t pay within 30 days, a $25 fee was put on FOR EACH violation.  so on a toll which could be as low as $0.55, there was a I-don’t-know-how-many-thousand-percent increase violation.

I thought E-ZPass MD’s customer service might be helpful. Surely talking to humans who make simple human mistakes too would be a cause for understanding.  But alas, best she could do was reduce the fees down to $5 per violation.  A nice drop but still, that’s $25 for something which wasn’t my fault.  Yeah I didn’t pay the violation on time, but that original violation wasn’t my fault – it’s EZ-Pass NY’s policy. I don’t know how they handle it.

This is sort of off-topic but while we’re here, I may as well point out how sucky E-ZPassMD’s customer service is.  After a crazy long hold time (they tell you at the start it’ll be longer than 6 minutes – that’s it, the only detail they give you), I spoke with someone named Marika who first offered the 80% price drop proposal.  I asked to be transferred to a supervisor and after another crazy long wait, she said she found someone and transferred me. But that was of course voicemail.  I left my voicemail message for I don’t know who and then had to call back E-ZPass Maryland, wait a crazy long time again, and finally speak to someone again.

This person was more helpful. Her name was Lydia (ID# 10846). She explained better that the 80% drop was all they could do on their end, but also made me aware of the option to dispute with the MDTA.  She gave me their address (which is P.O. Box 17600, Baltimore, MD 21297 – I’m making you aware of it because when you come to this corrupt state and get a ridiculous fine, you too will need to reach out to them).  Also, she took down my complaint for the previous rep Marika not telling me she was transferring me to the voicemail of a supervisor and gave me a reference for the complaint. That was nice.  While I’m mad Marika didn’t give me enough details nor make me aware that she was transferring me to a voicemail (so I could have stopped her), I am more mad there was no supervisor around for me to talk to during both calls at 4-something PM on a Thursday.

Anyways, I paid the $25 violation fine plus the toll fees (the latter part I of course don’t have a problem with).  I emailed E-ZPass NY to see if they would be willing to help but if they don’t, I can live with $25 down the drain just to pad Maryland Transportation’s wallets.  And if I get a chance I’ll do a dispuate with MDTA.

If We Ran DC, We’d Be At Least a Little More Moral in Our Citations

So before we begin, lets get one thing out of the way: I think Speed Cameras are unfair and wrong. Recent articles like this one about Baltimore’s whole error-prone system should be enough indication that as much human interpretation as possible is needed in the charging of this crime (hell, all crimes for that matter).

So with that said, let me get to my main topic of discussion. I got a red light citation in DC some months back when I didn’t actually run the light, but went too far in the crosswalk. Apparently I missed my opportunity to appeal this (I don’t know how the stupid rules work in DC, MD’s speed camera tickets have a more straight-forward process where you can have the Speed operator present).  And when I finally got through to Lucinda Babers of the DC DMV, she simply said the ruling on the field stood:


Meanwhile, fast forward to many months later in Montgomery County where I turn on a red and the red light camera flash goes off.  A quick google search helps me find the Montgomery County Police Department’s twitter address and the following occurred:


So in conclusion, Speed Cameras are wrong, but what really makes it bad is how DC uses them.  I hate this about you DC.





If We Ran A Health/Dental Insurance Company, We’d Get Our Documentation In Order

Everytime I’m pestered (yes, pestered) by a company to go paper-less, I think to myself, is today the day I will finally start. And the answer is always no. The main reason is that until a proper “push” system is in place instead of the current “pull” (you login to our site and download the documents yourself), I’m sticking with paper.

But today I encountered the other reason not to go paper-less – just annoying website nonsense.  Between the login creation, documents not being accessible, and other issues, it’s just something that frustrates you and makes you think, “forget it, I’ll stick with paper.”

Now I’m going to have a bigger post coming soon where I get into the bigger picture of documentation all around, but for today, let’s talk just about the Health and Dental Insurance companies – specifically MetLife Federal Dental Plan and Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Federal Employee Plan.

I have an FSA who often needs to submit documentation verifying the charge (another annoyance, we’ll deal with them another day).  Often submitting the EOB or the EODB is sufficient.  Today I don’t have the papers with me to scan and send so I thought I would download the paperwork from the sites.

First I went to Metlife and was so happy that I could 1) find where I had to go easily to get my EODBs and 2) create/recover my apparently already existing account without having to know my Member ID number.

But that feeling was gone when after I got in, navigated to the EODB repository and was greeted with this:

“Your Coverage and Claims information  are currently unavailable. Please Try again later.” *sigh

No worries, the way my dental insurance works is that the claim goes to my health insurance first (A confusing process – something else worth analyzing one day) so I figured I could dig up an EOB from my Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Federal Employee Plan to shut my FSA up.

Again, I was happy that I was easily able to find the login page and make my new account (weird, I’ve been with this BlueCross Federal for so long, I really don’t have an account already made?)

Once I was in, I scrolled down to the link to go to the “download the EOB” page:

I’m thinking, “man, this is all going so great…” But, I thought too soon of course and saw this:

That I was leaving and going to a new site that was operated by someone else on behalf of FEP. *Sigh. Why, why can’t this information just be kept all in one place.

I was of course less than surprised when the next page that greeted me was a page in the “MyBlue Customer eService” which wanted me to change my password:

And then of course, the password I just created wasn’t the password they were looking for:

And I was done. Won’t be getting the EOBs tonight. Will have to just go and get the paperwork.  Then scan it, and go from there.. all that nonsense.